Somalia: Somali Officials Vow to Improve Human Rights Following Rape Report

Somalia: Somali Officials Vow to Improve Human Rights Following Rape Report

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Somalia’s federal government pledged action after a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report alleged that state security force members were committing rapes and other abuses against women and girls at camps for internally displaced persons in Mogadishu.”I have publicly said and reiterate my personal commitment to restoring civil security in Somalia and to hold accountable all those proven guilty of human rights violations,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in a statement.

“The challenges that we face to rebuild our nation are huge and civil and military security remains our most important priority,” he said. “Moreover, the process of repairing our security institutions is under way to tackle issues such as discipline and professionalism.”

The HRW report came out four months after Mohamud issued a stern warning to government forces. “Any soldier who rapes somebody will be put to death,” the president said in late November.

In its March 26th report, HRW said that armed men in military uniforms have been carrying out night-time sexual assaults targeting women and girls in unprotected camps.

HRW called on the Somali government to work quickly to strengthen protection for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and to bring to justice members of the armed forces alleged to have raped or committed other abuses against IDPs.

Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said that improving human rights in Somalia is one of the new government’s priorities.

“Somalia is now looking to join the UN Human Rights Commission, and that means we must try to improve our record and promote human rights in everything we do,” he said March 20th following a meeting with United Nations Independent Human Rights Expert on Somalia Shamsul Bari.

This summer the Somali government will adopt a human rights roadmap and announce a new directorate general for human rights, minority rights and the rule of law, Shirdon said.

Independent committee formed:

In February, the government formed an independent 13-member committee to monitor human rights violations.

“The decision to form the independent human rights committee was made to address fears relating to human rights violations and to investigate violence against women,” Mohamud said. “We are well aware of the collective responsibility to prevent human rights violations.”

Mariam Yusuf, who heads the committee, assured Somalis and international partners that members of the group are aware of their immense responsibility. “We are very serious in undertaking this mission and we are fully committed to conducting independent investigations into human rights violations,” she said.

“Somalia has witnessed a state of disintegration and internal turmoil over the past two decades, resulting in grave violations of human rights and international law,” she told Sabahi. “The absence of rule of law and security in large parts of the country over the past few years has created an environment where vulnerable segments of society are targeted.”

Abdirahman Hassan, an official at Peace Line human rights organisation, said government efforts are working.

“Rape constitutes a main problem in the city, but over the past four months — after the presidential decision to execute any soldier that is convicted of rape — rape cases have declined,” he said.

“Although the most vulnerable segments of society, including women and children, are still subject to abuse, the government has taken several steps within a short period of time to improve the human rights situation in the country and to address violations by [security] forces,” he told Sabahi.

“We commend the steps taken by the government in forming the independent team to monitor human rights, and we urge the government to create a national human rights institution as well as to reform the security and judicial institutions for the sake of improving human rights in the country,” he said.

The Somali government still has a long way to go, however, before establishing basic human rights standards across the board, human rights activist Mohamed Ali said.

“We call on the government to translate its commitments into tangible procedures implemented on the ground and to follow through with the roadmap for human rights that it has announced,” he told Sabahi.